Wednesday, November 01, 2006

"Who was it said we were invented by water as a means of getting itself from one place to another?"

Barry Hannah is one of those writers that I'd heard about for years, seen on lists alongside writers I love, but never checked out. Until now.

This slim novel was nominated for the American Book Award in 1981, and I suppose I can see why. It was an enjoyable read, due particularly to Hannah's quirky syntax and dreamlike structure. He writes sentences akin to Lee K. Abbott, Amy Hempel, Reynolds Price, et. al. I also appreciated the way he smooshes first and third person and even sprinkles a little second person in every now and again. Plus, there was no boring plotline to slog through, which is always nice.

Maybe the thing that keeps me from raving about it, the thing that keeps me from saying that I loved this book, is that the main character is such an annoyingly immature redneck. The story is supposed to be about a doctor, but the doctor acts and thinks like a sixteen year old hillbilly with a perpetually unquenchable lust. The narrator's preoccupation with sex, his constant drinking, and his obsession with war makes him the epitome of what I loathe about the stereotype of masculinity. Ray, the main character in this novel, is the kind of person I would never want to be friends with, the kind of dolt I would never want my future daughters to get involved with, the kind of man who gives men a bad name.

But then again, it's so well written. What a conundrum! Which begs the question: when judging something, can content override form, or vice versa?